Malinda Lo’s debut novel, Ash, introduces Aisling, better known as Ash, who loses her mother and father at a young age. Forced into servitude by her stepmother to repay her father’s debts, Ash struggles to overcome her grief while trying to understand her woodland heritage through the land’s fairy tales. While trying to come to terms with her mother’s death, Ash finds herself drawn to the Wood and the cunning fairy Sidhean who promises to grant her desires though she does not know the cost. In the same woods, Ash meets the King’s Huntress, Kaisa, who becomes a mentor and friend while the reader watches their relationship delicately evolve into more.

Ash is standout debut from Malinda Lo. Of all of the retellings of Cinderella that I have read (and as a fan of fairy tales, I assure you I have read many), this one is a truly unique adaptation. To begin with, the cover is absolutely breathtaking. Ash has one of those covers that will immediately draw your eye in a bookstore and then leave you staring for several minutes before you finally reach out to pick it up. Malinda Lo’s descriptions are luscious and the imagery vivid. Beyond this, her words flow wonderfully, drawing the reader in so that you just have to read the entire book in one sitting.

While Ash in a sentence has been condensed to “a lesbian retelling of Cinderella,” I believe that reducing this debut to such oversimplifies and underestimates this beautiful tale. This rendition of Cinderella is rooted in folklore, especially as it layers multiple tales within the whole tale itself, and introduces the element of fantasy through fairies. Furthermore, while the GLBT theme is clearly key to the novel’s development, I did not find it to be popping at the surface of the story, but rather subtly woven throughout the text. Instead of pushing an agenda, Ash teaches that love and friendship can take you by surprise, are sometimes out of your control, and that both can be found in unexpected places. I also appreciated Ash’s strong will and that Malinda Lo did not stick to traditional concepts of good and evil (for example, Ash finding a sympathetic stepsister in Clara). Overall, Ash brilliantly recreates the story of Cinderella in an elaborate world where nothing is simply predictable. This is a 2009 debut that you will not want to miss. 10 out of 10.

P.S. Check out the British cover at Malinda Lo’s site here. It’s so much different than the US cover! Though I like the British one, I don’t think it really compares to the US one.


  1. A very nice review! I've read Malinda's articles on AfterEllen, and I am so excited for her first novel! I'm glad that we are finally able to have GLBT books that exist in the YA world that cover more than just the "coming out" process. This one is high on my to-read list, and I can't wait to read it!

  2. This is a fantastic review!!! The book looks really good!